KUALA LUMPUR - Animosity between Malaysia's two leading political coalitions - the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and opposition Pakatan Rakyat - has run high following the opposition-led Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat mass rally held earlier this month in the capital's iconic Merdeka Stadium.
Many argue that the political climate has never been so polarized ahead of the country's 13th general elections, democratic polls
that have the potential to bring enormous political, economic and social change.
BN, led by the United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO), has held power consecutively since Malaysia achieved independence from colonial Britain in 1957. Pakatan Rakyat - a coalition of the People's Justice Party (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) - looks to build on the historic gains it made at the 2008 polls, where it initially won control of five out of 13 state assemblies.
Since then, few have acknowledged the emphasis that Prime Minister Najib Razak has put on deconstructing draconian legislation that once allowed for indefinite detention without trial and scoop arrests of government critics. Clearly, there is a vocal and undeterred segment of the population which values civil liberties, freedom of expression, and free assembly to whom he is bidding to appeal.
The fact that this month's political rally occurred without incident is a sign that his administration is more comfortable with liberalization than previous UMNO-led administrations. While Najib has eased rules regarding the publication of books and newspapers, the next administration would gain enormous public support by relaxing controls on grass roots political expression, including allowances for greater citizen participation in checking and balancing alternative media.
At the same time, many of the states under Paktan Rakyat's control have experienced administrative mismanagement, including cases of water shortages that have left people without basic utilities. Despite claims that it would reduce water tariffs, the PAS-led administration in Kedah State has instead increased them.
In Selangor, reserve levels of treated water neared zero because of prolonged spells of hot and dry weather. Nonetheless, budget restructuring and tight conditions introduced under the watch of the Selangor government have halted the construction of needed water treatment plants, despite the current plants running at near maximum operating and distribution capacity. Read more.